October Horrorshow: Resident Evil

I’ve seen Resident Evil four times. Each time, it gets worse. Don’t ask me why I’ve dedicated five precious hours of my life to this dog. I have no answer. I wish I could swear this last viewing was the final viewing, but who knows? Maybe it will be, now I’ve bothered to write a review.

Regular readers will be aware of my affinity for shitty movies. I relish the escape. The right shitty movie can create an emptiness of mind similar to that attained by meditating. Done correctly, all conscious thought is pushed aside while considering a single, meaningless word, like ‘ohm’ or something. When I watch shitty movies, the carnival in my mind stops, the racket quiets and slows, and vision becomes separate from consciousness. I can enter the mindless, the pure and content, through the medium of terrible cinema.

Movies like Resident Evil, then, are therapy. They are escape from the pressures of work and the intellectual workout required in the reading of politics, history, and philosophy, etc. Shitty movies don’t reside in the realm of the vacuous. They are a pressure release valve, a way to expunge the stress of overusing the mind. I’m only partly joking.

From 2002, Resident Evil, starring Milla Jovovich as Alice and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, is an adaptation of the excellent video game series by Capcom. The first Resident Evil game was so groundbreaking upon its release in 1996 that it was enough to send me to the store and plop down over a month’s worth of rent money for a PlayStation and the game. Ah, to be 19 again, and so light in fiduciary obligations…

But I digress. Resident Evil, the game, was an amazing experience in gaming, a defining moment in the horror genre, and in the overall industry itself. Following a couple successful sequels, it was obvious there would be a film adaptation.

That film adaptation, of course, did happen. Anderson had previously directed the shitty movies Soldier and Event Horizon, both pricey and unsuccessful at the box office. But he had shown by then, with Event Horizon, that he was fully capable of directing a stylish film with high production standards.

He not only directed Resident Evil, he also wrote it. The script is a bastardization of the Resident Evil game continuity, but so what? No filmmaker should be shackled to the poor writing of video games. Especially from that era, when system limitations prevented games from having the scope and playing times of games today. Really, Anderson needed to fill in gaps in story, not craft a movie that just showed a main character recreating the puzzle solving of the original. That being said, there are a few instances in the film reminiscent of ’90s gameplay, but the rest revolve around an impenetrable plot, excessive levels of testosterone, and random zombie battles.

The crime for fans of the original game was the abandonment of the mansion, the great setting of the game, in favor of an underground research station that was just a bit too convenient for the story. Resident Evil, as the term was originally known in this country, was synonymous with something like Stan Hywet or Biltmore being overrun by biologically engineered zombies. This would have made for a far more compelling setting than the claustrophobic soundstages Anderson chose to use. As good as they look, these sets exude a b-movie quality to them, and we only see glimpses of the wood-grained magnificence of the mansion.

It now remains only to critique the performances of the cast. Normally, when I feel a cast was middling, or were complimentary to the point that no one player stood out, I would refrain from much comment. But this cast, from Jovovich, to Michelle Rodriguez, to James Purefoy, was uniformly bad. I named these three, but there wasn’t a performance in the lot that was worth a damn. It was embarrassing.

I think back to films like The King of Comedy and Goodfellas, where a great director, Martin Scorcese, was able to drag fantastic performances out of middling actors such as Sandra Bernhard, Ray Liotta, and Lorraine Bracco. All three were stunning when they worked for Scorcese, and fell aside afterwards. All one needs to know about Anderson compared to someone like Scorcese is to realize that had Scorcese been given Jovovich and Rodriguez, he would have made them Oscar contenders.

Alien: Resurrection is better than Resident Evil, but only because it’s a better looking film. No other reason. They both stink to high heaven.